ALAMEDA – Derrick Johnson was named team captain just before the start of this regular season. The rank is nothing new.
He regularly earned that it in Kansas City – Andy Reid changed captains each week during the regular season -- where he spent 13 seasons as Chiefs middle linebacker. It was an honor then, but it really means something now that he’s on another team.
Johnson has only been a Raider four months now, yet his teammates wanted a “C” stitched on his jersey.
“It’s an honor because it comes from your peers, your teammates,” Johnson said. “That’s especially true with it being my first year here. It comes with responsibility but, at the same time, there are a lot of veterans in this locker room. There are a lot of good leaders in this locker room. We have a lot of people pitching in to make the boat sail.”
A captain’s patch wasn’t the only addition to his uniform. A green dot’s sitting atop his helmet, meaning he’ll call plays and coordinate the defense as he did for so many years in Kansas City.
Those are signs that Johnson’s leadership style has been well received by the Raiders. Johnson is well liked on the field and in the locker room, and quickly learned a new defensive scheme to help younger players understand it.
His leadership and football IQ is unquestioned. That’s mostly what Johnson has been asked about since signing with the Raiders on May 4. Now he’s out to prove he can still play.
Some have wondered whether four-time Pro Bowler and two-time All-Pro can still play at a high level. That comes with being a 35-year old linebacker.
Johnson believes football acumen will make up for any losses in athleticism, but knows full well he has to prove it during the regular season. Monday night’s game against the L.A. Rams provides the first opportunity to do so.
“Questions about my play have taken a backseat (to talk about leadership),” Johnson said. “But when I’m on the field, when I’m back shooting gaps and covering well and making plays, then my performance will be front and center.”
Not on every snap. Not necessarily.
Johnson is expected, though several roles remain uncertain as we head into the opener, to play in the nickel and sub packages. Marquel Lee should play in the base defense.
“I put pressure on myself to play at a high level, regardless of my role,” Johnson said. “It’s not 100 percent of the snaps anymore, but it’s a good amount where I have to know my stuff because my name is going to be called a lot. This is a game where the nickel defense and is going to be out there a lot. I’m like a kid in a candy store right now. You get an extra boost of energy being on a new team.
“You always have things to prove. I have confidence in myself, even working within a new system. I know that production is big. If you perform well, you’ll be out there more. If not, they’ll put you back.”
Count Johnson among several veteran players head coach Jon Gruden wants to see play against the Rams and throughout the season. He convinced Johnson to sign here and bring stability to a middle linebacker spot in flux recently, and believes Johnson can still succeed in this system, at this point in his career.
“We are confident, that he can not only lead us, but he can make plays,” Gruden said. “He’s a very good pass defender. He’s got a real good recognition for where the football is and he’s had a history of making a lot of tackles. Hopefully he can prove that again with us.”